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Henry Bathurst, 3rd Earl Bathurst, KG, PC (22 May 1762 – 27 July 1834) was a High Tory, High Church Pittite from the end of the Second Empire. For thirty years an MP and whence ennobled one of the government's main stalwarts on Colonial policy. Not a good speaker in debates, he was nevertheless a competent administrator. If rather dull, he remained intensely loyal and at the centre of government for longer than all his contemporaries. A personal friend of William Pitt the Younger, he became a broker of deals across cabinet factions during the volatile Napoleonic era. After the Napoleonic Wars, Bathurst was on the 'conservative' wing of the Tory party. He came round towards arbitrating on a less than harsh colonial regime.

Background and education

Lord Bathurst was the elder son of Henry Bathurst, 2nd Earl Bathurst, by his wife Tryphena Scawen, daughter of Thomas Scawen. He was educated at Eton from 1773 to 1778 and then up to Christ Church, Oxford. The college was always considered the most academic, and he went up with his closest companions at Eton William Wyndham Greville, Richard, Lord Wellesley and Canon Bathurst, his cousin. The influences on his strong, but affable character were aristocratic, whiggish at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, a time of great social upheaval. Britain had lost the Thirteen Colonies but gained a larger empire in the Far East. Affable man of character, learning and wit, Bathurst was known in society for a gentle sense of humour. He was a book-lover, a trait which he inherited from his parents; his father's learning had acquired a large library, while his mother was artistic but quite stern. It was however his mother who was more business-like, and from her he learnt some cunning. He was a bad godfather to his religious charges, but a good father to his children. Not especially religious or church-going, Bathurst was worldly and intelligent. Aged sixteen he matriculated at Christ Church on 22 April 1779. His father was overjoyed, and from 1790 he bought a living at Sapperton, where the family farmed the estate, and a stall in Christ Church cathedral. Then in 1781 he decided to embark on a Grand Tour of Europe. Without taking a degree, Bathurst left Oxford for Germany, where he travelled with Greville. From Switzerland he went to Italy, before moving north to Paris. On hearing that William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne's government was challenged by a Fox–North coalition, Bathurst headed back to London in February 1783.

Immediately on entering politics he admired the patriotism and oratory of a youthful garrulous drinker William Pitt. Bathurst liked the young dissolute parliamentarian, but refused to join his frequent bouts. Pitt was tall and slender from a Navy family, but Bathurst was more self-restrained. The beauty aesthetic rendered Bathurst more sensitive, studious and scholarly towards departmental duties. The strongest quality he possessed was loyalty to his friends: he was the only society family that would entertain Lady Wellesley, one account concludes she was illegitimate. Later when appointed head of the Gloucestershire Militia and it "embodied" he owed it to Wellesley, a born soldier in 1798 who made his name in India. High Anglicanism meant antiquarian attitudes to assiduous recording of letters and correspondence, of which a sizeable proportion survives. This was how he came to the conclusion that slavery was cruel, but was wary about voting for a franchise extension. But when Joseph Pitt of Cheltenham wanted a seat Cricklade was found at the other end of the Cotswolds. The Prime Minister's £1,000 was contributed towards his debts.

It was through the ultra Tories Pitt and Wellington that he helped to gain recognition for the independence of Spain and Portugal; a policy decision that was influential on the Peninsular War. Later on he would support Canada and Australia to establish 'white' dominion status, a legacy of what one historian has noted was the significant tenure of Secretary of War and Colonies before Palmerston in the 19th century. This fact is often overlooked since Bathurst was far from being a radical. The social diarist Maria Edgeworth, often alluded to by Jane Austen, wrote that he was an "old school dog" and certainly Bathurst was clubbable. A "formalist", she thought who was "very much from that class". It was under Pitt's ministry that prisoners were first transported to Botany Bay. The wars produced a rising population in London which reached one million by 1800; but so too was the number of serious crimes, and not just murder. Bathurst was a conciliator by nature, able to write clearly and concisely. When the Prime Minister resorted to alcohol, he would be hard at work in his office.

Political career

Lord Apsley was member of the British Parliament for Cirencester from July 1783, when he was elected the moment he turned 21. But he refused to serve with the Whigs owing to a friendship with Tory William Pitt. A maiden speech bravely opposing the East India bill was sufficiently impressive to bring down the government. On New Year's Eve 1783 the "mince pie" administration was without the young lord who was called away to Cirencester.

He was a junior civil lord of the admiralty from 1783 to 1789 adhering firmly to the Pittites. At Carshalton a by-election missing voter agents Bathurst sent a former employee to aid Pitt's party cheering on his friends to help. The department included five lords, of whom all the others were MPs with 20 clerks and a secretary, Paul Stephens. He was assisted at the Navy Board by a "hard-working" Captain Charles Middleton.

Apsley contested the General Election in 1790 in his father's interest at Cirencester. Granted the reversion in 1786 from Lord Hardwicke to the tellership sinecure worth £2,700 per annum in the Commons as a lord of the treasury to 1791.[1] A cousin Richard Hopkins vacated a junior post at the Treasury on 10 August 1789. He was therefore responsible for counting the government's votes on divisions in the chamber as well as recording expenditure. On 18 April 1790 he voted for repealing the slave trade in the first such vote on abolition. He was however not in favour of repealing the Test Act in Scotland. On 3 June 1791 he sat on the committee of Inquiry into the Prince of Wales civil list and use of funds which were granted for the heir apparent's household at Carlton House. Yet by 21st he had resigned to attend on his dying father at home.[2]

As an unpaid Commissioner of the Board of Control from 1793, he was sworn to the Privy Council on 21 June. When awarded a salary by Pitt he rejected it for the sinecures that already obtained. He was again at the centre of cabinet government, but had failed to make his mark attending only a quarter of the meetings held every ten days. In the Commons he was a diffident speaker, and not a great orator, which hampered advancement to the great offices of state. He relinquished office on his father's death in 1794. Lord Mornington offered the Governorship of Madras, but even on appointment he withdrew from travelling to India, to which his wife objected strongly.

In 1801 he was a Joint clerk of the crown in Chancery worth £1,100 pa; a position that monitored claims and civil suits, giving him an eye for better administrative competence. At the height of Bonaparte's invasion scares he returned home to command the Cirencester Volunteer Cavalry. When Pitt was asked to resume as Prime Minister he chose his old friend again in May 1804, to be Master of the Mint in new offices built by Robert Smirke in July, while he worked on the entrance hall at Cirencester. He professed to Pitt he was "well provided for" after he had tried to bring the Pitt and Grenville factions to unite. He advised Grenville that the king would not tolerate Catholic officers in the Army during a national crisis, on the whig's summons to the palace. His friend's death on 23 Jan 1806 prompted Bathurst to quit politics, but the Ministry of all the Talents was very brief.[3]

Appointed as President of the Board of Trade in March 1807, Bathurst's first concern was Napoleon's Continental System against free trade. Yet he was defeated by cabinet Hawks, who closed all British ports, invoked the Navigation acts at home and abroad. Bathurst's response was the Orders-in-council of 11 and 25 November 1807. He was behind Admiral Berkeley's posting to Lisbon, and subsequent championing of John VI of Portugal as Emperor of Brazil. Obliged to concede Napoleon's Convention of Cintra, Canning criticised the policy as "the most disastrous."

In defending royalty when York resigned as Commander-in-chief he refuted the allegation of corruption, being bribery for the sale of commissions. "There is no calculation to the capture of the Island of Flushing" he told the Vice-President at the Board. Bathurst also advised the King on Portland's resignation from ill-health. For the two months from 11 October 1809 he was briefly in charge of the foreign office he imposed a travel ban to Portugal withdrawing diplomat Henry Williams-Wynne.[4] Thinking of the lines at Torres Vedras he sent the King a board of backgammon, a strategic victory.

He remained Master of the Mint during the ministries of the Duke of Portland and Spencer Perceval, only vacating these posts in June 1812 to become Secretary of State for War and the Colonies under Lord Liverpool until Liverpool resigned in April 1827.[5]

When King George IV turned to George Canning to form a government following Liverpool's resignation, Bathurst, along with Wellington and Lord Eldon on the far right of the Tory party, who called themselves the 'Ultra Tories', refused to serve under him due to the new prime minister's humble origins, liberal policies and support for Catholic emancipation. When Wellington in turn was called to form a government a few month later in the aftermath of Canning's death, he opted for a middle-of-the-road cabinet and Bathurst had to contend with the relatively minor position of Lord President of the Council.[6]

Bathurst deserves some credit for improving the conduct of the Peninsular War, while it was his duty to defend the government concerning its treatment of Napoleon Bonaparte.[5] Bathurst endorsed Sir George Prévost's policy in British North America when war broke out in 1812. He ordered the Provincial Marines to be replaced with Royal Navy personnel authorising the occupation of the Great Lakes; yet organized with the defence of Canada in mind. The strategy retained essentially defensive and under-funded until Napoleon I was sent to Elba in 1814; by which time it was too late. Bathurst refused to send large-scale reinforcements. However, when operations switched to the north-western forests and inlets of Vancouver Sound in British Columbia 20,000 troops arrived to prevent incursion over the border. The failure of the Plattsburgh Expedition destroyed Prevost's reputation among Royal Navy officers. He was recalled to face a court-martial on Bathurst's orders, but died in 1815.

A High Tory

A close friend of Castlereagh's and Wellington's, Bathurst shared their view that the first responsibility of government was to try to preserve the established order both at home and overseas. He enjoyed sinecure incomes as Teller of the Exchequer and Clerk of the Crown and, as such, was a beneficiary of the 'old corruption' system loathed by radicals. He was a High Churchman and a High Tory, a significant Gloucestershire landowner, a lifelong supporter of agricultural interests and a supporter of the Corn Laws. As Colonial Secretary, he would be hostile both to the introduction of representative institutions, and to the development of a free press in Britain's possessions. While himself an efficient and conscientious bureaucrat, he ran the Colonial Office on traditional, paternalistic lines and overseas posting owed much to status, nepotism and family contacts. He appointed his brother-in-law the Duke of Richmond, who was in financial straits, Governor-General of Canada and send out his son-in-law, Major General Sir Frederic Ponsonby, to be Governor of Malta. He appointed as Governor of Cape Colony Lord Charles Somerset, a son of his friend the Duke of Beaufort. On the other hand, while not an abolitionist, he was a friend of William Wilberforce and he pressed his colonial governors hard to improve the living conditions of Caribbean slaves.[7]

Bathurst reorganized the department with his capable Under-secretary Henry Goulburn. Blue books were introduced for the first time with new office routines. Goulburn's successor, Wilmot Horton was an admirer of practical good sense and discretion. Bathurst appears to have been personable, amused and capable of delegating tasks. To prevent a Tory split he supported Pitt's decision to return the Cape of Good Hope colony in Feb 1801, voted to keep the Aliens Act 1793 and wanted foreigners to carry passports. He accepted the Peace Treaty of Amiens in 1802 following Pitt's lead, whom Malmesbury said "he looked up to."

In 1817 he despatched a commission of inquiry to Australia to investigate the colony's use of transportation and treatment of convicts. John T Bigge sent back three Reports recommending that more settlers should be sent to the colony, and therefore transportation should continue. Bathurst ordered changes to administration of justice and land distribution in the colony. George III introduced him to the Knight of the Garter in 1817, and he held several lucrative sinecures.[5] The collapse of wages and economic depression since 1800 exercised the mind of the Board President

Rising unemployment brought a real sense of crisis to Bathurst's statement to the Lords. Much of the blame for importuned labourers begging in the streets was protectionism, Lord Brougham demanding on 13 March 1817, "a full and unsparing review of the whole commercial policy of this country".[8] Also in 1817 he made a signal speech to the Lords governing the conditions under which Napoleon had been sent to the rock at St Helena in which he made it clear the hardship the former emperor was facing.

Bathurst's official position caused his name to be mentioned frequently during the agitation for the abolition of slavery, and with regard to this traffic he seems to have been animated by a humane spirit.[5] This is recognised in the naming of the town of Bathurst, Eastern Cape, which was renamed in memorial for a humanitarian gesture towards the settlers of Albany, and parliamentary censure of Lord Charles Somerset, its excessively punitive Governor-General. The current capital of The Gambia, Banjul, was originally named Bathurst after the earl.

Bathurst was Lord President of the Council in the government of the Duke of Wellington from 1828 to 1830, and favoured the removal of the disabilities of Roman Catholics, although did not believe that it would improve the constitution and so voted against.[5]

But he was a sturdy opponent of the Reform Bill of 1832.[5] The Earl, who had four sons and two daughters, died on 27 July 1834 at his London home, 16 Arlington Street, Piccadilly. He was buried in Cirencester abbey's parish church. Charles Greville's much quoted encomium is hardly flattering but remains largely because it was published in his Memoirs.[9]


Lord Bathurst married Lady Georgiana, daughter of Lord George Henry Lennox, in April 1789. He died in July 1834, aged 72, and was succeeded in the earldom by his eldest son, Henry.

Lady Bathurst died in January 1841, aged 75.

Sir Thomas Lawrence was the court painter when Bathurst sat for his studio. Subsequent etchings were done in London, 1810 by Thomas Phillips and Henry Meyer. One example was purchased by the National Portrait Gallery of Australia in Canberra.


Bathurst was portrayed by Christopher Lee in the South African television series Shaka Zulu.

See also

  • BL - British Library
  • OIOC - Oriental and India Office catalogue, in British Library
  • CKS -
  • Derbys RO - Derbyshire Record Office
  • Surrey HC - Surrey History Centre
  • NL Scot - National Library Scotland
  • NA Scot - National Archives Scotland
  • PRONI - Public Record Office of Northern Ireland
  • U. Nott. L. - University of Nottingham Library
  • TNA - The National Archives of UK at Kew, Richmond, Surrey.
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